Fire-destroyed 40-year-old St. Jacob’s Market resurrected with thoughtful design and construction innovations


Ontario Construction Report staff writer

The St. Jacob’s Market, originally established in 1975 in the Waterloo area as an outdoor summer market, has grown steadily to include, in 1986, a permanent building which made it Canada’s largest year-round farmers’ market.

After fire destroyed the structure in 2013, a massive co-operative effort to resurrect the market commenced. Now it has reopened, bigger and better, but still as authentic as ever.

Before anyone even thought about rebuilding however, a major effort was required to ensure vendors could continue to operate. Brian Shantz, a building and planning consultant with Brian L. Shantz Ltd., worked with an affiliated company, Architecture Incorporated, Architect, to co-ordinate the design of temporary and new buildings.

In a surprising co-incidence, several individuals with the Shantz surname have been associated with the market project. In addition to Brian Shantz, general contractor Frey Construction’s project manager Stew Shantz and owner Mercedes Corp.’s family all share the surname.

“Mercedes Corp., which owns the market, understood this is a primary source of income for many vendors so it was important to get them back up and running,” Brian Shantz said.

He says after the debris from the fire was removed, the original foundation and services were utilized and a soft-shelled structure was installed which could temporarily house the 60 displaced vendors. Through support from the municipality and the trades, decisions were made quickly and the market reopened within three months. “Time was critical, both for the short-term with this project and longer-term with the reopening of the whole market, to keep the spirit and energy of the market intact.”

This 16,000 sq. ft. building, now named the Market Tent, will continue to be used as part of the new market operation.

He says the next stage included developing an overall plan for the 27-acre site, including the new main market building. “The building owner was committed to rebuilding after the fire and they had learned over the years what their vendors and customers wanted so were able to incorporate these lessons into the new design.”

Shantz says some of these features include adding more daylight into the building; wider aisles, increased from 10 ft. to 13 ft.; and better organized seating. A second-floor overview with windows and seating overlooking the outdoor market has also been created. “The new building is 34,000 sq. ft., up from the original 24,000 sq. ft. but the configuration is 30 ft. shorter and 40 ft. wider to allow for three end to end wider aisles to improve the flow of traffic within the building.”

While the function of the market building has grown and evolved over time, the new construction also provided an opportunity to purpose-build to meet those new demands. “The original building was never intended to house food preparation and was built for a simpler time.”

Brian Shantz says the new building is fully air conditioned, barrier free and sprinklered and it incorporates leading-edge exhaust systems for the food service area.

Meanwhile Stew Shantz at Frey Building Contractors says people travel from all over to experience the market and to connect with its rural charm and culture. He said the client understood it was paramount to maintain the history and character of the new building. With that in mind, the new structure very closely resembles the original, with subtle differences the average market-goers aren’t likely to notice.

“The original building was constructed of sawn Douglas Fir timber which experienced some twisting and cracking. The new structure is made from Douglas Fir glulam that has the same rustic look but will better maintain the integrity and support the greater capacity of the building.”

Stew Shantz says the wood’s warmth and charm is key to the old-market feel and this will only be enhanced as the wood naturally ages.

A unique system sourced by Timber Systems Limited accommodates the upper-level viewing area and maintains the design’s integrity, “constructed using a three and one-quarter inch CLT (cross laminated timber) over which a concrete floor has been poured.”

He says the view from below highlights the same beautiful wood beams as the rest of the market. From above, users have a solid concrete floor which will carry the load of heavy use and be easy to maintain.

Meanwhile, Stassburger Windows and Doors supplied and installed high-quality vinyl windows.  Shari McLaren, project estimator and window and door consultant, says her company supplied some of the windows for the front façade and the market’s rear.

“The windows had to meet the architect’s request for glazing but also aesthetics. In this case they had to suit the façade but also the aesthetic interior wood finish.”

She says Strassburger’s vinyl windows with a solid beige interior fit both requirements. “Our solid beige coloured extruded vinyl frames provided the flexibility of having the exterior of the frames painted white to create that crisp contrast to the red exterior of the building that the architect wanted while still having the solid beige coloured frame to the room side to blend with the warm wood elements of the interior of the building.”

Brian Shantz says the vendors have been very public in their praise of the new market building and that the public was wowed at the grand opening.

Meanwhile, Frey’s Stew Shantz says there was a lot of pressure to get the building completed on time and that a cold, windy winter complicated the effort. In the end though he says all of the trades came together to ensure the project came in on time.

“Frey is a good builder who we have worked with many times,” Brian said. “Not only are they able to build to the design but they offer value-added benefits through their knowledge and their input to ensure a project runs as smoothly as possible.”

Brian also credits the team at Mercedes. “Milo Shantz was the visionary who took a leap of faith in building a year-round market space that has grown to be such a large part of the fabric of the community. Today his son Marcus and the Mercedes company carries on that vision and has demonstrated their commitment to that with the new, improved building we see today.”

The new $5 million building will house 65 to 70 vendors and in the summer months, also support the traffic visiting the 300 outdoor vendors who populate the site. All of this is managed by Sheila Shantz and the team at Mercedes.

For more information about the year-round St. Jacob’s Market, visit


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